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There’s more to teams than Starters and Bench Warmers

Defining Roles for a Positive Experience for All Players on your Roster

         Kids who don’t understand their purpose, why they aren’t playing, how specifically they can improve or change their role on the team, become discouraged and often just stop trying somewhere around mid-season.  Without that connection and communication to our players, it’s hard to re-engage a player who feels unimportant on their team. 

         Teams are made up of people who have different roles reaching for a common purpose, but our sports teams often lack the structure and communication to help our players learn about roles.  Often our kids don’t understand the roles available, where they fit in, or how to work towards a different role if possible.  They see the options only as starters and bench warmers, when in reality there’s a long list of roles – each vitally important to a team’s success.  

         A high school team will have different and more diverse roles than a youth team and often has the most discontent among players and parents because of it. Roles will include finishers – those players who can take the hard work of the players on the field and end the play with a score, ball shuttlers – those who get the ball from the defenders who skillfully have turned possession over and brought it to the finishers, or the play-makers, defenders, communicators, face off/draw specialist, feeders etc.  There are other roles as well, that are rarely defined or understood on a high school team and that often lead to discouragement, parental and player frustration and problems as the season progresses.  These roles include the relief player – the one that comes on the field when the finisher or communicator or playmaker need to rest and recharge, who must maintain possession of the ball and keep the quality of play up while those players are out, there are developmental players who have the role of learning as much and as quickly as possible at practice so that one day they will be ready to take over the roles of playmakers and shuttlers and finishers.

           There are other roles that aren’t even related to playing, roles like leaders, encouragers, motivators, and organizers. Often players have more than one role, they may be a playmaker on offense but training to become a defensive communicator where the team will need them next season. They may be a relief player who is also a motivator and organizer. The question is, do our players know what their role is? Do they understand what they are responsible for, why their strengths have brought them that position, and why it’s important? Do they know the path to having another role if that’s an option?  Can a relief player become a finisher, and is there feedback outlining what they would need to do to reach that goal? Can a relief player lose their role and do they know what’s required of them to keep their position? What if they are making strides towards a different role or maybe they’re not fulfilling their duties, is there a conversation happening to keep them or redirect them to moving in the right direction before frustration moves in?

          Keeping the team moving together, striving to be the best they can at their own roles, lowering frustration and challenging each player no matter what role they play are all parts of a successful program. There’s a high turnover on coaches, as well as players hopping programs as they seek to avoid frustration these days.  Lowering that frustration and increasing connection and communication at every level is going to prevent many of the main issues that can tear even the best coached or most talented teams apart. Here’s how you can connect with your players this coming season!

1.       Define the roles on the team, what are they, why are they critical, and what’s expected of each role.

2.       Can roles be switched once the season starts? Make a clear path to this process if it’s an option.  Perhaps an aspiring finisher needs to perform a certain way at practice (demonstrate clear understanding of cutting to get open for goal, protecting the ball, taking more shots and scoring during drills) A shuttler may need to meet certain conditioning goals, ball handling and appropriate hand off decision making.

3.       Appoint certain times for players and coaches to connect through feedback, either mid season, every two weeks, via a quick written eval as needed, etc. Or offer open office times certain days of the week where players can come talk to coaches for feedback and get advice on how to work on weaknesses as well as where they are excelling and improving.

4.       Make it known on a regular basis that every role is critical to team success, try not to focus praise on one role over another. A  relief player that keeps the ball in possession, has a defensive stop, or just completes passes and makes successful cuts or ball movement while they are in a short time should receive the same praise as a finisher after a goal when they come off and when they’re on the field, or even at practice the next day or when the game ball is handed out at the end of the game. Consider making your end of season awards about who really mastered their roles rather than goals, stats, and plays.  

5.       Make sure developmental players understand from the beginning that their role is to learn, then call attention to new skills they pick up and improvements at practice to build their confidence and lower frustration.  If they get a chance to try out those skills in a game, offer praise for efforts and keep them motivated to move into that new role later on as they get ready for it. Talk to these players during games, ask them questions and give them a chance to show you they are learning and know what they are looking at as well as keeping them engaged in the game they are watching.

            Kids often get lost in confusion as line ups change from week to week, or maybe they just can’t seem to get on the field.  As a parent I struggle watching my own kids not understand the rhyme or reason behind who plays when and as a coach I’ve watched engaged but struggling to keep up players lose heart and stop trying mid-season.  Clearly defined roles, equal importance and a clear path to understanding how to work towards the role they want to have can keep kids engaged all season long, keep kids striving to improve in a growth mindset. It will also assure parents that kids don’t play based on favorites or politics, that there truly is a system in place and it’s designed with all the players bests interests as well as the overall success of the team.

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